More than 600 film and television companies from across Europe, as well as representatives from Hollywood studios, sports leagues, film festivals and film and television markets, signed a letter opposing proposed legislation that would ban geo-blocking across the entire European Union.
Next Wednesday, December 13, the European Parliament will vote on whether to adopt a proposal that would include audiovisual content, from Hollywood films to French television series and English football matches, in EU regulations prohibiting the use of geo-blocking. . technology to impose territorial exclusivity for film and television content.
The EU banned geo-blocking for most services as part of wide-ranging legislation in 2018, arguing that erecting online barriers to cross-border trade was a violation of the EU principle of a digital single market. However, audiovisual content was initially excluded from the ban. Media companies have long argued that territorial exclusivity is key to their business models and that getting rid of it would jeopardize the creative and economic sustainability of Europe’s film and television sectors.
On Thursday, December 7, representatives from most of the major studios, including Warner Bros. Discovery, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures and Paramount, joined forces with European giants Canal+, RTL, TF1, Sky, ProSiebenSat.1, Wildbunch and Leonine, representatives of the main studios. sports leagues, including England’s football Premier League, Germany’s DFL and Italy’s Serie A, and distributor and exhibitor groups, including the MPA and European exhibitor organization UNIC, in a joint letter calling on the EU to reject the proposal and maintain territorial exclusivity. .
Among the signatories of the letter were, in addition to private companies, representatives of the Cannes and Berlin film markets, the Venice Film Festival, the European Film Academy and the international television festival Series Mania.
Banning geo-blocking of film and television content “would result in a drop in the number and variety of films and audiovisual content produced… Distribution and circulation would be drastically reduced,” the letter reads. The companies argue that the result of a ban on geo-blocking would be a “significant reduction in content, distribution and access options, as well as increased prices” for consumers.
In 2018, the film and audiovisual sector in Europe was worth €121.7 billion ($131 billion), or just over half of the $257 billion North American market, according to data compiled by industry representatives from available sources. publicly, including the European Audiovisual Observatory. the MPAA, Eurostat and Bpifrance. But Europe remains largely a mosaic market of individual nation states or linguistic regions in which small and medium-sized businesses account for the vast majority of employment in the sector.
US-owned streaming services, including Netflix, Amazon and Disney+, operate throughout the EU, but most film and television financing, production and distribution takes place locally. Licensing contracts for exclusive regional or linguistic rights (for a French film in Belgium, for example, or an English Premier League match in Norway) form the basis of the industry, with prices differing depending on demand. Low-income territories in Eastern Europe pay on average less for movies and television services than those in the wealthier West. The rights to an Italian football match are worth more in Italy than in Finland. Companies are using geo-blocking technology to prevent cross-border comparison shopping, which they fear will lead to price dumping, with the lowest value territory dictating the license fee for the entire EU.
Disrupting the model by banning geo-blocking would, industry representatives say, dramatically reduce the value of most European content, reducing the incentive to invest in less-spoken local language work or in content with less obvious multi-territorial appeal.